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Korner Home Security review: Korner's DIY security kit keeps tabs on doors and windows

These low-cost triangular tags can keep tabs on your doors and windows -- for a fee.

Ry Crist Senior Editor / Reviews - Labs
Originally hailing from Troy, Ohio, Ry Crist is a writer, a text-based adventure connoisseur, a lover of terrible movies and an enthusiastic yet mediocre cook. A CNET editor since 2013, Ry's beats include smart home tech, lighting, appliances, broadband and home networking.
Expertise Smart home technology | Wireless connectivity Credentials
  • 10 years product testing experience with the CNET Home team
Ry Crist
8 min read

Fun fact: my CNET Appliances colleague Andrew Gebhart and I were once college roommates. We lived together in a six-bedroom house with four other friends during our senior year at Northwestern University back in 2008. It was a fun time, but our place wasn't in the greatest neighborhood -- sure enough, we had a problem with break-ins.

6.9

Korner Home Security

The Good

The Korner Home Security system will reliably sound an alarm if someone tries to enter your home through tagged doors and windows. You can buy in for less than $100.

The Bad

The system is very simple, with no option to add basic accessories like motion detectors or a keychain remote to your setup. Also, after your first year of use, you'll need to start paying a $40 yearly fee.

The Bottom Line

The Korner system performed well in our tests, but we'd like it a lot more without the yearly fee.
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Those were the days.

Photo by Daniel Iden

Andrew and I didn't have a lot of home security options back then. After all, we were broke college students living off of ramen noodles and peanut butter, and an expensive, feature-packed security system wasn't feasible for our budgets. Even if it had been, we were renters, and our dear landlord wasn't keen on hardwiring a system into the home, especially not one with a lengthy contract attached.

That's how I know there's definitely a market for a product like Korner, which offers relatively inexpensive home security without a complicated installation or a long-term contract. It's far from the first product in the smart DIY security space, but it might be the simplest -- just stick the motion-sensing tabs on your doors and windows, then plug the siren-emitting base into your router. To arm and disarm the system, you'll use a free app on your phone. That's it -- no cameras, no additional accessories, no live monitoring.

That approach is probably too simple for a lot of homes, and you'll need to pay a yearly fee of $40 (a little over £25) in order to keep using the system after your first year, making it less of a good deal in the long term than a fee-free option like iSmartAlarm or Piper NV . Still, at less than $100 for a three-tag starter kit (converted, about £65), I think Korner merits consideration for people who just want a basic level of security covering the entrances into their home. At the very least, I think Korner would have probably scared off the intruder who forced our bathroom window open in the middle of the night back in 2008 -- that's enough for me to say there's a place for it in today's market.

Korner's sensors stand guard over your doors and windows (pictures)

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Design and features

Most open/close sensors take a two-piece approach, with a sensor on the door or window frame and a magnet on the door or window itself. When the door opens, it separates the two and triggers the sensor. Korner tacks in a different direction. Each triangular tag is a single skinny, sharp-cornered piece of white plastic with a simple accelerometer packed inside. Whenever the door or window moves, Korner senses it. If your system is armed, that motion will set off the alarm.

There are pros and cons to this approach. The upside is that Korner's tags look a lot better than their magnetic counterparts, almost all of which are clunky-looking smart-home eyesores. Compared with those, Korner's tags looks downright svelte. If your doors and windows are painted white, you might actually forget that they're there -- you can't say that about traditional contact sensors.

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Tyler Lizenby/CNET

The downside is that Korner's tags aren't quite as smart as the alternative. With magnetic sensors, you can check whether a door or window is open or closed; with Korner's tags, you'll only know if it's moving or not. Another important caveat: if you open a door with a Korner tag stuck on it very slowly, you'll be able to sneak through without setting off the alarm. You can't do that with magnetic contact sensors. Once the magnet is separated from the sensor, the alarm gets tripped, no matter how slowly that separation happens.

The other system component is the "Korner Stick," a combination base station and siren that you'll stick directly into the back of your router, then plug into power via Micro-USB port. It isn't nearly as clean-looking a design as the tags, and it eats up a good deal of room behind the router, so make sure you save some space.

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Korner's base station plugs directly into your router -- just make sure you've got room for it.

Chris Monroe/CNET

Along with the siren, the Korner Stick houses a ZigBee radio, which lets it communicate with and keep tabs on your tags. Korner's team acknowledges that ZigBee devices can be hacked if they aren't careful about how they pass data back and forth, and insists that they keep things secure by encrypting and rotating network keys, among other safeguards.

Once the Stick's plugged in, you follow the app's instructions to get everything set up. The app isn't the most attractive-looking I've ever seen, but it's fairly intuitive, and easy enough to get started with. I had my three-tag system up and running within about 5 minutes.

Once everything is connected, you'll be able to monitor the status of each tag on the app's home screen, or arm and disarm the system by tapping on a lock icon. You'll also find a time-stamped activity log on the home screen -- a handy way to keep track of comings and goings.

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Korner's app does a fine job of walking you through the setup process.

Screenshots by Ry Crist/CNET

The gear icon at the bottom of the app brings up system settings. You'll be able to edit the names of your devices, turn on a door entry chime or customize how long an exit delay you get after arming the system.

I would like to see a few more features here -- namely, a way to customize the sensitivity of the sensors. As of now, you can't, which isn't reassuring for anyone who's concerned about that slow-entry method. You can't adjust the siren volume, either. It's quite loud, though I suppose that's what you want in the event of a break-in.

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You'll arm and disarm the system by tapping the lock icon on the homescreen. Tapping the gear and then tapping "House Profile" will bring up your system settings, but you won't find very many options.

Screenshots by Ry Crist/CNET

One feature you will find: a "Circle Feed." Essentially, it's a place where you can add contacts to your setup -- a neighbor, friend or family member, perhaps. If the alarm ever goes off, you can choose between notifying the police or notifying your Circle. You can also set the system to email those contacts automatically if something's ever amiss.

You also have the option of adding an extender to your setup. Each extender costs an extra $40, and looks like the Korner Stick without the Ethernet jack. Plug it in, and it'll increase the reach of your system, while also providing an additional siren. I ended up needing to use one in the CNET Smart Home, where the front door is a little over 50 feet away from the router. It worked as promised, though I would have been happier not to need it at all. Unless you live in a smallish apartment, plan on needing at least one extender.

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Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Performance and usability

Korner is a simple security system that's designed to do just one thing: monitor movement at your doors and windows. Fortunately it does that one thing pretty well. In all of my tests, opening doors and windows with Korner tags attached and the system armed resulted in a near-instantaneous alarm event, complete with an ear-piercing screech from the sirens. I was also happy that the alarm notifications always arrived swiftly on my phone -- even when I had Wi-Fi turned off.

When the alarm sounds, you'll open the app to find your home screen replaced with an "intrusion" screen. You get four options here -- a mute button that shuts the siren off, a lock button that disarms the entire system, a button that'll call the police for you and a "quick action" button that'll send a message to the people in your security circle.

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When the alarm's going off, you'll receive a notification, along with the option to call the police.

Screenshots by Ry Crist/CNET

Take a close look at those screenshots, though. The one on the left shows the initial push notification about an alarm event. It's informative, telling you not only that there's a problem, but also where the problem is (the basement door, in this case.)

Now look at picture No. 2. That's what you see when you open the app to respond to the problem. It doesn't say anything about the basement door anywhere. You have to disarm the system in order to see the activity log, where the basement door is listed as the problem spot. That's not ideal -- if your alarm goes off in the middle of the night, and you groggily unlock your phone without reading the full notification, then you won't know where the intrusion is coming from. Fortunately, this seems like a pretty simple software fix -- hopefully Korner will tweak this in the near future.

The only other noteworthy issue I ran into was that I wasn't always able to arm the system on my first try when my phone was off of the local Wi-Fi network. When you tap the button to arm, you get a little countdown window that gives you time to get out. Occasionally, when I tested with Wi-Fi off, the system wouldn't actually arm at the end of that countdown. In each instance, it was always fairly obvious that something wasn't working (an "arming pending" notification wouldn't appear on the screen), and it always worked on the second try. Still, it's something you'd want to make a habit of keeping an eye out for.

As of now, Korner isn't integrated with any third-party smart home platforms or devices. I'd like to see some development here -- an IFTTT channel or compatibility with an established platform like SmartThings would allow people to use Korner in more creative and comprehensive setups. Right now, it's walled off. Another complaint -- the lack of a keychain or keypad accessory for arming and disarming the system without need for your phone.

Aside from that, the Korner system works as promised, reliably sounding an alarm each and every time I expected it to. None of the tags dropped its signal during my testing, and I never had any issues with false alarms. As a basic, bare-bones approach to home security, it does a fine job.

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Chris Monroe/CNET

The verdict

The Korner Home Security system is certainly a lot less expensive than more full-featured systems, and, most importantly, I think you can rely on it to go off when you need it to, provided you've got tags on all of your doors and windows. With just three tags for $98, I'm not sure that the starter kit would be enough for anything but the smallest of residences -- most people who'd buy this would almost certainly want to add additional tags for $25 each, along with perhaps a $40 extender or two.

That and the yearly fee of $40 after the first year undercut Korner's angle as a budget-friendly security option. Systems like iSmartAlarm and gadgets like Piper NV cost more up front, but they carry no fees, making them better deals within just a few years. Korner is the kind of product I wished existed back in 2008, and I'm glad it's an option for the Andrews and Rys of 2015. But it isn't the only option, and it isn't the best one.

6.9

Korner Home Security

Score Breakdown

Features 6Usability 7Design 7Performance 8